So I’m hijacking the headline, like the ‘Best HiFi of the Decade’ articles springing up at the moment. OK hands up, whilst metaphorically dusting myself down – the *best* of Downtempo Electronica, being what I’m really familiar with and like.
But this is a genre of music that is one of my favourites. OK so lots of categories are within it from ambient, new age, jazz, techno and so on. Roon says ‘downtempo artists tend to be more beat orientated than ambience’.
But it regularly balances relaxation, introspection with fun and lots of melody and harmony. Not to mention decent levels of rhythm. Use of sampling and electronic wizardry keeps it original as once you’ve heard a set of drums and a guitar and vocalist, well there can only be a certain originality. I don’t play an instrument but I’ve always thought downtempo electronica shares its structure and cues with classical in the way the music builds. As opposed to traditional verse and chorus musical structures. It’s what Mozart would have been writing had he been alive today??….
No elevator downtempo music here. This is a sub genre routed in dance music culture. And when you talk of electronic I don’t mean highly synthed pop electronic. So the Roon definition seems pretty apt!
If I’ve missed anything really stand outish for you (I can’t include everything😛), please share, but here goes…. I came up with these as my picks from my library;-
Röyksopp are a Norwegian electronic music duo from Tromsø, formed in 1998. The duo consists of Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland. They released two albums around this time and this album represents their more laid back approach to their other work ‘junior’. I love the trip hoppy tracks like The Alcoholic with the seminal and exquisite use of synthesisers that they are so good at using. Then more laid back tracks like Forsaken Cowboy too. On any electronic music lovers wish list. I can recommend this album extremely and there is nothing stopping you from buying it.
Ulrich Schnauss is a German electronic musician and producer who has been on the scene for some time and came up with the pioneering and classic far away trains passing by album in 2001, as featured below. He collaborates with Jonas Munk who is similarly an electronic artist going under the name of Manual but who mixes electronic and indie/guitar influences. This album is relaxing, beautiful and uplifting. If the album cover painted a million pictures. Tracks like Sonnenblumenstrahl with a simple melody that keeps the track alive. But it builds and builds with high frequency soundscapes that wash over you – a great test of a HiFi too!
This album is a kind of ambient downtempo experimental album that uses orchestral, choral and atmospheric samples, that can only really be described as a concept album. Give it time as this is a real builder and it’s easy to gloss over this album as being over pretentious – for it’s not. The talent of these musicians is clear and it’s not really an album that is widely available….niche and a hidden treasure. But boy does this album have originality. It sounds like it would work as the back-drop to a movie of the middle ages – knights on horseback riding through the English countryside. From Gregorian chants of Admitance to the lovely melody driven tracks like Grandcan. As a whole this album works and I love it. Unlikely to hear this at a HiFi show.
Hidden Orchestra is apparently a hidden orchestra according to the blurb on Roon. In other words, musicians get together (not physically), record their music, and then it is assimilated into the tracks by the brainchild Joe Acheson. And this record is not short of instruments which are put together with electronic themed influence. The ethereal nature of some of these tracks make you think, but it connotes an idea of planet and environment. Very introspective in places like the track Hushed with the way the wind instruments dual together and build and build. This is a track to test a HiFi and its dynamics and I regularly use it. Simply superb.
Ok so it is a compilation but there is something about this album which is a nod to the synthesiser and its harmonic approach and big time! Tracks like Daddy’s Grove are a new offering from Royksopp as well as new age stuff from the likes of Andreas Vollenweider. But you get a feel this group are into melodic synthey music when they clearly take influences from the clarinet masterpiece of Acker Bilk’s Stranger on the shore, which is also on this album.
Tosca has nothing to do with opera but is the collaboration of Richard Dorfmeister and Rupert Huber, for anyone who likes electronic music but has been living underground for 25 years. Hailing from Vienna this downtempo album is quite a dark affair compared to some of their other electronica albums, like the snappy going going going. But keeping ambient influences. Tosca use quick instrumental synthesised samples overlaid onto ‘trendy’ electronica, like the track what if or Heatwave that create feeling. Tracks like Cavallo show what Tosca are all about in the downtempo sphere.
Hailing from Brighton in the UK, British Producer Simon Green (aka Bonobo), meshes instrumental arrangements and layers of percussion into downtempo blissfulness. There is always a lot going on with any Bonobo record with the likes of tracks like Cirrus but you get the skippy trippy beats in the mix as with tracks like Sapphire.
Matt Berry is an actor turned musician and apparently this album was inspired by its title. It’s easily my favourite album beyond his quirky and fun Television Themes record. This album uses synths galore and it feels experimental in much the same way as Kettel & Secede’s ‘When Can’ album. But all these sounds wash over you again into an introspective whole with the use of great melodies like at the end of part I. Also samples from the environment add to the feel. If you are a fan of the likes of Vangelis or some of the work of Mike Oldfield you will love this album. I never get tired of it. This album is quite simply capable of taking you to a different place. I love it. Music to think or relax too as best Downtempo Electronica.
Ott is an English electronic composer who takes his influences from Indian inspired downtempo often mixed with dub. The 2008 album Skylon is a classic in the genre and never to get tired of. He has collaborated with Brian Eno and The Orb and Simon Posford of Sphongle/Hallucinogen. I love the way he uses melodic vocals over washy and ethereal electronica like on the opening track A gentle place by birth is you. This is another artist that should have done better for his talent and I think this album was crowd funded. It’s not his best work as Skylon is clearly streets ahead, so if you haven’t checked out Ott I’d recommend going to that one first. Skylon is sublime in the downtempo electronica genre.
Nonkeen is the master-child of the neoclassical maestro Nils Frahm, who collaborates with childhood musician friends Frederic Gmeiner and Sebastian Singwald. He mixes classical or neo-classical with electronica and this album, strangely titled oddments of the gamble, is totally different. I love the feel of the track the journey of hello peter. This album is unique in the way it meshes jazz, to post rock and house. You don’t get the kind of subtle quiet associated with his neo-classical work. This is a busier affair but the lush soundscapes and downtempo relaxation this album creates is something to behold. Very recommended for anyone who likes his neo-classical albums like the brilliant all melody
Ok so I couldn’t get enough of this album when it came out, and if you want to test a HiFi out try export import. People will take note at a HiFi show! More than playing Yello. All of a sudden you will be Mr Cool. This track is not really downtempo – you have to go to tracks like Dr Dings for that. The album really isn’t downtempo like much of their work, but its good enough to take its place here coming from a downtempo artist.
And some other noticeable gems (circa last 20 years)
So these seminal albums don’t need much introduction particularly BOC and Nightmares on Wax. Who doesn’t like the weird and wonderful electro-synth music of Boards of Canada with tracks like Kaini Industries or Bocuma. This music picks you up from your HiFi listening seat and takes you flying around into those tourist board videos that inspired this artist of the same name. And so what if it’s commercial or overplayed this is my favourite Downtempo Electronica. I can never eat an orange the same way after listening to Aquarius. You’ll know what I mean if you like this group too.
And the best most influential HiFi of 2010-2020 goes too ;
Ok so I’ve really got to be pushed on this as there are so many. But the Sonos Connect and Sonos infrastructure in streaming took the world by storm.
Say what you like about quality and how it rates to uber-systems, but it was instrumental in starting a streaming craze and it gets my vote ;- check out the latest written article and film on the port, respectively, here and here.
What next from best downtempo electronica?
Best Neo-classical 2010-2020?
Best Indie 2010-2020?